Don’t be afraid to trim early bloomers

The last week in June is the time to get snippy.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Wednesday, June 25, 2008 12:00am
  • Life

The last week in June is the time to get snippy.

Pruning after blooming is the general rule, so tidy up your unruly azaleas by shearing them back a few inches now and prune off overgrown rhododendron branches. Better yet, turn large rhododendrons into small trees by removing all the lowest branches at the point where they meet the trunk.

You also can pinch back the top few inches of growth on annual flowers like petunias, snapdragons and marigolds and continue to remove the faded flowers from pansies, fuchsias and geraniums to keep them blooming. If you have boxwood or other evergreen hedges, then June is the month to give them a haircut as well.

Q: I was given an azalea plant as a gift from a memorial service. It has been blooming steadily since October and looks fine except that some of the lower leaves have fallen off. It is growing outside on my deck. Should I be concerned?

A: All plants drop their lowest leaves as new foliage appears, so some leaf drop is normal. If the stems are bare and the azalea looks spindly, it may need more water or fertilizer. Plants in pots often dry out as summer progresses and the roots grow to fill up the pot.

Azaleas and rhododendrons growing in the ground do not need much fertilizer, as they love our naturally acidic soil. Potted azaleas need fertilizer after the first year in a container, so either transplant now into a spot that gets morning sun or feed with a plant food made for rhododendrons. Always water before you feed a plant. When you fertilize a plant in dry soil, the roots take in the plant food much too quickly, and gobbling down fertilizer in a hurry gives plants indigestion. This shows up as brown tips on the leaf margins.

Q: We planted yellow-twig and red-twig dogwood in a low damp spot of our property, and they are doing very well. Now the problem. The dogwood shrubs are spreading toward our house, and it looks likes this is happening by underground roots. What should we do to control this?

A: A hostile takeover by aggressive dogwood or Cornus stolonifera is nothing to fear. You will not be bamboozled if you just dig in and chop a shallow trench into the ground where you want the creeping underground stolons to stop. The trench can be your marker for a yearly root trim and a sharp spade or shovel is all it takes to cut back the roots every spring and fall. The creeping dogwood shrubs are much easier to control than spreading bamboo plants, so rest easy and enjoy the winter color.

Q: I planted some flowers in a sunny window box and forgot to water, and they all died. Is there anything besides fake flowers I can put into a window box that doesn’t need watering all the time? I am not much of a gardener.

A: Yes, with very little attention you can grow sedums, succulents, salvia and sages, or drought-resistant alyssum and the trailing gray-leaved plant called Dichondra Silver Falls. Make sure the window box contains potting soil, not dirt from the ground. Also make sure there are drainage holes in any container garden. Water well immediately after planting, then check the soil every week and soak the soil only when the top two inches are dry. Mix a slow-release plant food into the potting soil, or buy a potting soil with fertilizer already mixed in.

Send questions for Marianne Binetti to P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, WA 98022. E-mail: mariannebinetti@comcast.net.


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